February 20, 2011

A slain Fort Worth boy's door turns into magical book

Jayden Underwood has been dead six years, but his bedroom door is still covered with stickers of superheroes and cartoon characters, stretching only as high as the 7-year-old could reach.

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FORT WORTH -- Jayden Underwood has been dead six years, but his bedroom door is still covered with stickers of superheroes and cartoon characters, stretching only as high as the 7-year-old could reach.

He slapped up the "Do Not Enter" sign, hastily written in pencil, one day after a tiff with his mother, a bold display of first-grade independence.

Except for its location, Jayden's bedroom door looks the same as it did Feb. 19, 2005, when he, his mom, Lisa, and his unborn sister, Marleigh, were killed inside their house in far north Fort Worth.

Stephen Barbee, a married man who wrongly believed that Lisa was pregnant with his child, was convicted in the deaths and is on Death Row.

Jayden's door was moved to Boopa's Bagel Deli, the shop Lisa co-owned with her best friend, Holly Pils, to keep the family's memory alive and pay tribute to an innocent boy with an active imagination.

It has since become the inspiration behind a children's book called Jayden's Magic Door.

"I think Lisa and Jayden are in heaven, clapping," said Sheila Underwood, who lost her only daughter, her grandson and her unborn granddaughter in the slayings.

The book was written and self-published by first-time author Candace Schneller, who works as a secretary at Huguley Memorial Medical Center, where Sheila Underwood is a senior administrator.

Schneller, 57, of Burleson said she got the idea years ago after reading a Star-Telegram article about how Jayden's door had become part of a makeshift memorial at the bagel shop, which was named "Boopa's" after Jayden's nickname.

"She brought a copy for me to look at about five years ago," Underwood said. "I was really impressed. ... What a sweet thought. But I really didn't know how dedicated she was to the whole project."

A magical world

Jayden's Magic Door is 21 chapters and tells the story of a 7-year-old boy who, when he opens the door to his room, enters a magical world filled with bagel-making birds, an energetic baby kangaroo, a unicorn sheriff and green dragons. The characters are named after Jayden, Lisa, Marleigh, Boopa's and other important fixtures in their lives.

"Jayden was easy to talk to, he was funny, and he could come up with some stuff with his little imagination," Sheila Underwood said. "I think she captured Jayden's spirit."

Pils agreed.

"It's a really sweet book," she said. "And the door is just such a neat thing to remember Jayden by -- he loved putting stickers on there so much. Kids constantly walk in and they go to the door. ... It's a treasure."

Schneller said it cost about $2,000 to publish the book, which she sells for $22. Part of the proceeds go to Huguley's Spirit of Women program.

"It's hard to describe the feelings I was having when I wrote it," Schneller said. "When I look at their picture, I can see in Jayden's eyes that there was a spark. I want people, every time they read the book, to know they are still with us."

A difficult anniversary

Barbee, 43, had dated Lisa Underwood and incorrectly believed that she was pregnant with his child and would ruin his new marriage. Lisa, 34, who was 71/2 months pregnant, was beaten and suffocated inside her home. When Jayden entered the room screaming, Barbee suffocated him, too.

Barbee dumped their bodies in a shallow grave near Justin. DNA tests on the fetus revealed that Barbee was not Marleigh's father.

Saturday marked the six-year anniversary of their deaths, an occasion perhaps made a bit easier by Jayden's Magic Door.

"It's a beautiful book," Sheila Underwood said. "It's an honor. It's a gift forever. I can't even express how it touches me."

Melody McDonald, 817-390-7386

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